EDITOR'S NOTE: The prospects for offshore wind as part of a portfolio of new renewable energy resources, as well as the implications of the greening of the electricity sector, will be the focus of the Renewables Rush executive energy conference in San Francisco on April 5.
The east coast of the United States finally has its first offshore wind project at 30 megawatts. Europe already has about 15,000 megawatts online.
On both the east and west coasts, however, several groups and companies are trying to narrow that delta.
In early March, the 2017 California Offshore Wind Industry Symposium, hosted by the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust and the Business Network for Offshore Wind, featured key leaders of the industry, regulators, supply chain experts from around the world, and environmental scientist to provide a summary of the key opportunities and challenges facing this new source of clean energy.
Two companies, Trident Energy and Statoil, have recently expressed competitive interest in an area 20 miles offshore of California for a floating offshore wind project. That interest has triggered a federal regulatory response from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, as well as a state-based process for determining where and under what conditions offshore wind will be allowed to develop.
In addition, a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, "Potential Offshore Wind Energy Areas in California: An Assessment of Locations, Technology, and Costs," makes a convincing case that floating offshore wind energy has a very promising future in California…if California wants it.
The NREL report looked at the available wind resources, costs, technology and some sample areas for development, and concluded that offshore wind could provide 112 gigawatts of power, a significant portion of California’s energy needs.
The big difference between west coast wind projects and those in Europe and the east coast is that the turbines will need to float, rather than being bottom-mounted. Several companies have already demonstrated floating technologies, including Principle Power, from California, and Norway’s Statoil.
While the floating technologies may initially cost more, the use of floating technologies can have some significant benefits. Because the projects will be floating, they are not restricted to depths less than eighty meters, which constitutes a narrow band of water relatively close to shore.
Floating technologies can open vast areas further from shore that will help minimize conflicts with busy and ecologically rich near-shore environments, and avoid viewshed impacts.
Additionally, the further out to sea and higher in the air the turbines are located, the stronger and more reliably the winds generally blow, providing higher capacity factors and more output.
These are some of the reasons why California is starting to turn its gaze west for new sources of clean energy. Opening the oceans to floating offshore wind in California will require a significant commitment of time and resources, and political will.
New uses of the oceans do not come easily, but the opportunities of clean energy and significant job growth from offshore wind are powerful incentives…almost as powerful as the world-class winds blowing offshore.
Jason Busch is the executive director of Oregon Wave Energy Trust.